Word tattoos

Michael Phillips • February 15th, 2009 @ 12:01 pm • Uncategorized

After I quit the world of speaking people, writing became abruptly crucial, but also far more satisfying in many ways. For instance, I have seventeen tattoos, seven of which are word tattoos, mostly song lyrics and a couple of Chuck Palahniuk quotes. Words are really my favorite kind of art, letters arranged into words, words arranged into sentences. There’s such beauty in writing. It’s bizarre, but I don’t remember images as well as I remember words. Whenever I see something beautiful, or astonishingly disturbing, I think about how I would translate the image into writing. I end up remembering, “her hazel eyes are warm, yet sad, so alluring that I forget to breathe,” more clearly than any photograph.

Word tattoos are also quite good at making a clear statement. I find that many people who meet me for the first time, without talking to me via computer, assume that I have the intellect of a slow nine-year-old. They talk slower, or louder, or both. This was less of a problem back when I could talk, I could always just say something witty. Things are different without my voice, it’s harder for people to know me. So, I started getting word tattoos, little glimpses into thoughts I can’t quickly express. 

People first notice the poppy tattooed on the top of my right hand. They don’t usually get the opiate allusion, but it’s showy. They ask, usually of my assistant, if it’s real, if I have more. Then I show them, “and if you cut yourself, you will think you’re happy,” etched from shoulder to elbow. I show them, “one more high to decay my nervous,” etched into my shin. After that, I’m not nine; a little dark, but not a child. Images are so subjective, words are far more clear.


I also like the idea that when I die, some coroner is going to look at my tattoos and think, “who in the fuck was he?”

17 Responses to “Word tattoos”

  1. Alex Carnegie says:

    I haven’t any tattoos yet, I’ve never been able to think of anything important enough that I’d want it written/drawn on me forever. I’m a big wuss really.

    On the word tattoo topic though, check this out: http://fc93.deviantart.com/fs38/f/2008/343/d/6/house_of_leaves_by_mybodyisacage.jpg
    I have to say though, if they were going to go to the trouble of getting the tattoo, the might have at least made sure ‘house’ was coloured in blue…

  2. Michael Phillips says:

    Alex: You could be right, but I like the impact of black lettering.

  3. KJ Bishop says:

    I dither about tattoos. I imagine them, and then a week later I’ve changed my mind and thought of something else, so I’m probably not the best candidate for inking. I (hypothetically) like the idea of a trompe l’oeil scene, showing something like this guy’s work.
    Do you have any of your own words tattooed on you?

  4. Eleanor Lance says:

    Holy cow, your tattoos are cool! How right you are: when it’s all over, and we’re lying on that stainless steel table down in the basement, we won’t have copies of any stories we’ve written with us, or beads we’ve sculpted or oil paintings we finished…so the only things that will mark us as someone who was interesting to know, someone who was a little more sparkly than ordinary, will be our tattoos. I love yours.

    I am 44, and when my daughter gets her nose pierced after graduating junior high this June, I am going to get my first tattoo at the same time. I plan on a squid, going around my wrist, colorful and menacing, maybe a little sexy. However, I may change my mind and get something sentimental and goofy, like my dead cat Hannah wearing a sombrero, at the last minute.

  5. Michael Phillips says:

    KJ: No, I feel weird about my own writing. I’m never particularly satisfied with it, and I just feel like other people’s art is more beautiful than mine. I’d also just feel kind of awkward about displaying my writing on my own skin. I have to say, The Etched City probably contains a thousand gorgeous tattoos.

    Eleanor: The squid is totally sexy.

  6. Eleanor Lance says:

    Thank you, baby.

  7. Michael says:

    You ought to have a CONOR tat… I do, Louise does,Whitney does and Alden does…brings very good vibes to the tatted

  8. Mary Ann says:

    THAT is the tattoo of a writer!

  9. Adam says:

    “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be” on the backside of right tricep. “Forever Greatful” on backside of left tricep. Words are far more direct and meaningful.

  10. Michael Phillips says:

    Adam: You’re so right.

  11. Lauren says:

    I agree. Words mean more than any image. I am an artist, but my passion for the written word is probably stronger. I just decided on what I am getting:
    “The stars tell me how far the sky is
    The sky looks to the stars for light
    The sea teaches me I am a part of the ocean
    The waves of the sea bring me back to me”
    Its going to have 5 small black seagulls around it to represent the 5 people I love and have lost in my life.

  12. stevie says:

    i like kurt cobain too

  13. Sarah says:

    Your tattoo really hits home for me. It really is a false sense of security. I also love to write, and no matter how often people tell me it is good, I will never believe them. I’ve decided to get the latin saying “Alis Volat Propriis” on the side of my foot. It means, “she flies with her own wings”.
    Words are truly the most powerful form of art, forever meaningful and almost impossible to forget.

  14. Ariana says:

    it wouldnt let me actually see your tattoo that is posted

    but i love the idea of a conor tattoo and Eleanor’s squid!

  15. Sarah says:

    Hi! I enjoyed reading your message, I love hearing the reasons behind tattoos.
    I’m going to soon get “Human” written on my wrist. This is from the song “Are we human, or are we dancer?” by the Killers. Human is my answer, to the question.
    The song was inspired by their singer reading a novel by Hunter S. Thompson (Author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). Thompson once mentioned that humans/americans were turning into a generation of dancers – people who are rehearsed in their actions and move in patterns, they follow others. To be human, is to be yourself. From a young age, my sister told me that in life, to be true to myself is the biggest thing I can do for myself. This is my small reminder, on my arm.

  16. Wenchy says:

    i does love it

  17. girlgerms says:

    I love words for tattoos and i love the fact that when I die they sum up me.. and on my foot next to the toe tag are the words.. “No Regrets” as we whisper goodbye.

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